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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Central Asia: Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan

Birding the Silk Road

Tuesday 6 May to Saturday 24 May 2025
with Steve Rooke with local leaders
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In the foothills of the Tien-Shan Mountain Photo: Steve Rooke

The Silk Road, Samarkand, and Bukhara—the names conjure up images of fierce Mongol hordes storming out of the east and of dusty camel trains and crowded bazaars where rare jewels and exotic spices were traded by travelers from far-off lands. Stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Tien Shan Mountains, the Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are indeed richly endowed with history and culture. The varied traditions and customs of this fascinating region are matched by a wide variety of habitats. From Tashkent we’ll take ‘the Golden Road to Samarkand’ and follow the Silk Road to Bukhara, and beyond into the drifting sand dunes of the Kyzyl Kum Desert, where we’ll look for Pander’s Ground Jay, one of the region’s special birds.

Following this ancient trading route to Kazakhstan, we’ll seek out ancient woodlands where Yellow-eyed Stock Doves and Saxaul Sparrows still breed before we reach the dramatic splendor of the snowcapped Tien Shan Mountains, awash with wildflowers and home to Himalayan Snowcock and Güldenstadt’s Redstart. Heading north, we’ll find ourselves surrounded by the enormous skies and wormwood-scented breezes of the Kazak steppes, alive with White-winged and Black Larks and swarms of waders, gulls, and terns. Now oil-rich countries in their own right, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are developing fast but still retain an air of mystery and intrigue, which Steve Rooke, on this 32nd tour there, looks forward to sharing with you. 

Day 1: Participants should plan to arrive in Tashkent (see note **, below) no later than this evening or (if using Turkish Airlines, the preferred airline for this tour) in the early hours of Day 2. You will be met on arrival and transferred to our group hotel. Night in Tashkent.

Day 2: The group will convene for an early breakfast at our hotel in Tashkent, and afterward we’ll drive to a mountain area. The lower slopes are drenched in juniper trees that are home to Hume’s Lesser Whitethroat, Hume’s Leaf Warbler, Turkestan, Yellow-breasted and Rufous-naped Tits, and White-capped and Rock Buntings. Overhead we can expect Cinerous and Eurasian Griffon Vultures, Booted Eagle, Oriental and European Honey Buzzards, and Hobby. Nightingale songs should echo around the lower slopes and we may encounter Asian Paradise Flycatcher and Blue Whistling Thrush, as well as Indian Golden Oriole. Night at a local hotel.

Day 3: We’ll spend some time this morning birding in this area then set out along the fabled Silk Road to the wonderful town of Samarkand. We should arrive in time to take in a few of the sights, such as the stunning Registan a beautiful assembly of turquoise-blue domes and towering minarets and one of the most famous sites in Central Asia.  Night in Samarkand.

Day 4: To the south of Samarkand lies a range of low hills where we’ll stroll along a delightful valley alive with Red-headed Buntings. White-throated Robins and Eastern Orphean and Upcher’s Warblers breed among the bushes, and Hume’s Short-toed Larks feed among the rocky outcrops. Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Turkestan and Lesser Grey Shrikes and Eastern Rock Nuthatches also breed, along with a few pairs of European Bee-eaters, and we have another chance to find the striking Asian Paradise Flycatcher. We’ll look for Finsch’s Wheatear which should be feeding fledged young by now. Those interested in plants or butterflies will find much to occupy them, as this sun-drenched spot is alive with insects and flowers while, away in the distance, we can see the snow-capped Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan. Night in Samarkand.

Day 5: We’ll have time this morning to visit more sights of the historic city, including perhaps the most amazing of all, Shah-i-Zinda or the Street of Tombs, and the massive Bibi Khanum mosque with its attendant Alpine Swifts.  We may also visit some pools on the outskirts of the town where we can expect to see White-crowned Penduline Tit and Water Rail. Later we’ll set out once more along the Silk Road to the oasis town of Bukhara. Night in Bukhara.

Day 6: Today we’ll venture deep into the dry Kyzyl Kum Desert to search for the handsome Pander’s Ground Jay, one of the special birds of Central Asia. These striking grey, black, and white birds spend much of their time running over sand dunes dotted with saxaul bushes, occasionally flying up to perch in a prominent position. We can also expect to see the local desert race of Little Owl, Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Steppe Grey Shrike, Isabelline Wheatear, and Streaked Scrub Warbler, while any small stand of trees can hold migrants, from flocks of Rose-colored Starlings and Eurasian Golden Orioles to Thrush Nightingale and Ortolan Bunting. Night in Bukhara.

Day 7: We’ll visit some of the wetlands that surround this old oasis town, exploring reedbeds that are home to Clamorous and Moustached Warblers as well as the Paddyfield Warbler, Bearded Tit, and the local “Thick-billed” race of Reed Bunting. Smart Citrine and Black-headed Wagtails and Bluethroats add splashes of color while White-tailed Plover in breeding plumage are common. Caspian Gulls can usually be found, and although Marbled Ducks occur here, they can be difficult to locate. We’ll also look out for flights of Glossy Ibis and Pygmy Cormorants. We’ll see more Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and Pied Bushchats, and there is always the chance of a Purple Heron, or Collared Pratincole.

We’ll return to Bukhara to spend the remainder of the afternoon immersing ourselves in the splendor of the historic old town. We’ll visit the Ark, where Stoddart and Connolly met their famous demise in 1842; the Kalen Minaret, one of the few buildings left standing after the visit of Genghis Khan; the trading domes where Silk Road travelers would gather; and many other sights. There will be time to haggle over the price of a Bukharan rug, buy spices, or pause for a cold drink at Labi Hauz, the social heart of the old town, surrounded by magnificent buildings and mulberry trees that were planted in the 15th century. Night in Bukhara.

Day 8: Venturing out of the town once more, we’ll explore a mix of dry scrub, reed-fringed pools, and open desert steppe. We’ll be looking in particular for Sykes’s Warbler, Rufous Bush Robin, and the shy Ménétries’s Warbler. The roadside wires are a good place to see Oriental and European Turtle Doves and Long-tailed Shrikes, while any pool can hold flocks of Red-crested Pochards or migrant Red-necked Phalaropes. We’ll return to Bukhara and board the new high-speed train that will whisk us back to Tashkent. Night in Tashkent.

Day 9: Leaving Uzbekistan, we fly to Almaty in Kazakhstan. On arrival we’ll drive north into the wild heart of Kazakhstan to spend two nights camping in the Taukum Desert, a vast area of undulating sand dunes and wormwood-scented grasslands. On the way we’ll stop at a large lake, where we may witness the bustle of a huge Rose-colored Starling colony and look for White-headed Duck, as well as any unusual migrant waders such as Terek Sandpiper or Lesser Sandplover. Night in the desert camp, where each single or couple will have a good-sized tent.

Day 10: Our camp is located near an artesian well that acts as a magnet for local breeding birds as well as numerous migrants. There shoiuld be a constant stream of larks coming to drink—Calandra are the most obvious, but Greater and Asian Short-toed are also frequent visitors and there is always the chance of Bimaculated Lark. Other birds we can expect include flocks of Black-bellied Sandgrouse and, if it’s a good year, a few Pallas’s Sandgrouse, as well as some of the scarce resident Greater Sand Plovers or handsome Caspian Plovers in full breeding plumage. This open desert is also home to Macqueen’s Bustard, and we’ll scan the horizon for a displaying male.

Farther north lies the delta of the Ili River, a strange area of sand dunes interspersed with marshy pools and stands of turanga trees, and home to some of the region’s most special birds. Yellow-eyed Stock Dove, White-winged Woodpecker, Azure Tit, and the beautiful Saxaul Sparrow are all easy to see, and careful searching may reveal a roosting Striated Scops Owl. The reedbeds are home to Little Bittern, Paddyfield Warbler, and some interesting races of Penduline Tit, while the wetlands can hold anything from massive Dalmatian and Great White Pelicans to dapper Ferruginous Ducks. Later we’ll return to the camp and visit clumps of trees and small pools that can attract a dazzling array of migrants that can include anything from Oriental Turtle Doves and Barred and Blyth’s Reed Warblers to Black-throated Thrushes or perhaps a Little Crake or European Nightjar. Night in our desert camp.

Day 11: After a final morning around the camp we’ll return to Almaty. We’ll stop along the way at the same lake to see if there are any newly arrived migrant waders. As we drive, Long-legged Buzzards will be a common roadside sight, and if the rains have been good, there will be vast expanses of poppies stretching to the horizon. We’ll reach Almaty and check in to a comfortable hotel with plenty of time for ‘regrouping’ after our two nights under canvas. Night in Almaty.

Days 12–13: Today we’ll take a mountain road, and climb steadily through pristine spruce forests, into the Tien Shan mountains.  We’ll stop to look for Nutcracker, Three-toed Woodpecker, Songar Tit, and Eversmann’s and Blue-capped Redstarts, and, in the mountain streams, Blue Whistling Thrush and both Brown and White-bellied Dippers.

We’ll pause at a lake located in a deep valley and scan the stony shoreline for the Ibisbills that regularly nest here, although our attention will undoubtedly be drawn to the tinkling song and striking plumage of numerous Red-fronted Serins. Once we rise above the tree line, we’ll find ourselves in a crystal-clear landscape of dense juniper bushes, flower-strewn alpine meadows, and snowcapped peaks. The juniper will be alive with the song of Himalayan Rubythroats, Hume’s Leaf Warblers, Black-throated Accentors, Red-mantled and Common Rosefinches, and White-winged Grosbeaks. The beautifully marked Severtzov’s Tit-Warbler can also be found in this habitat, along with the skulking Sulphur-bellied Warbler.

On one day we’ll drive higher to a mountain pass where the handsome Güldenstadt’s Redstart nests and both Red-billed and Alpine Choughs will be wheeling overhead. We’ll also be looking for the Altai and Brown Accentors that inhabit this mountain wilderness, along with Plain Mountain Finches and Water Pipits. We’ll have already heard the eerie calls of Himalayan Snowcock echoing around the lofty peaks, and at this altitude we should be able to look down on some calling males. Nights in a hotel on the outskirts of Almaty.

Day 14: The snow-capped Tien Shan Mountains continue to provide a stunning backdrop to our journey today as we head east towards the open plains and hills of the Upper Charyn region, watching the roadside wires for Rollers and Lesser Grey Shrikes as we go. The scenery in this part of Kazakhstan is truly inspiring with endless desert plains backed by low hills, dramatic gorges and distant snow-capped mountains. The open plains are home to Demoiselle Cranes, Lesser Kestrels, Shore Larks and Asian Desert Warblers, while the low hills and gorges host Rock Sparrow, Siberian Stonechat and Meadow Buntings, and any small spring could be visited by Mongolian and Asian Crimson-winged Finches and Grey-necked Buntings. Raptors could include the mighty Golden, Imperial and Steppe Eagles and on a high pass we hope to see Himalayan Griffon Vultures gliding overhead, along with Black Vultures and perhaps a Lammergeier. Night at a local lodge.

Day 15: If Pallas’s Sandgrouse has avoided us thus far we’ll scour the plains looking for this nomadic wanderer.  We are bound to see its more common cousin, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, but Pallas’s cannot be relied on to appear, as their numbers vary from year to year. This is good Saker country, and we’ll be on the lookout for one as well as for Desert Wheatear, smart Desert Finches, Spanish Sparrows, and Pale Martins. We’ll visit an enormous reedbed where Savi’s Warblers reel from the reed tops, competing with noisy Great Reed Warblers. Night at a local lodge.

Day 16: We’ll head back to Almaty and connect with a flight to Astana the bustling and vibrant capital of Kazakhstan. It’s located in the heart of the vast Asian steppe, the sea of grass that once stretched all the way to eastern Europe. Night in Astana.

Days 17–18: We’ll have two days to explore the rich steppe habitat and all that it has to offer. Close to the town we’ll visit a small river to look for singing Bluethroat, and Barred and monotone Booted Warblers. As we venture farther afield, the extensive grassland is peppered with wetlands alive with clouds of Black and White-winged Black Terns and displaying Marsh Sandpipers, while Great Bitterns creep around the reedbeds. We’ll visit a lake that holds Slavonian, Black-necked, and Red-necked Grebes and endangered White-headed Ducks as well as a good selection of passage waders, while a small orchard can be an amazing place for a variety of migrant passerines.

Farther out we’ll enter the ancient steppe with its immense grasslands and lakes of fresh and salt water. Birdsong will fill the air, and the sense of space will be exhilarating. We’ll search the grasslands for Dalmatian Pelican, Pallid Harrier, Red-footed Falcon, Demoiselle Crane, Great Black-headed, ‘Steppe,’ and Slender-billed Gulls, a range of waders including breeding Black-winged Pratincoles, the rare Sociable Plover, hordes of migrant Red-necked Phalaropes, and handsome Ruffs in full breeding plumage. Passerines should include Citrine Wagtail and two splendid larks—White-winged and Black—steppe birds par excellence. Nights in Astana.

Day 19: The tour concludes this morning with a transfer to the airport. 

Updated: 31 May 2024


  • 2025 Tour Price Not Yet Available
  • (2024 Tour Price $7,150)


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Questions? Tour Manager: Erin Olmstead. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

**Accommodation the night of Day 1 and airport transfer on arrival are included in the tour cost. Meals on Day 1 are not included. 

 Tour dates may change slightly when summer airline schedules are published.

Maximum group size 10 with two leaders. Both leaders will accompany the tour irrespective of group size.

Single rooms or rooms with en suite facilities may not be available in some places. See Tour Information for details. 


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